The facts of political relationships within the Spinward Marches, the history of frontier wars along the borders, the details of interstellar intrigue, and the potential for future warfare on both system and interstellar levels all dictate the existence of battle fleets in the Spinward Marches. The fleets are not unique; they are typical. Most sectors throughout the galaxy boast star fleets devoted to the maintenance of peace, the prosecution of war, and the suppression of disorder.
THE SPINWARD MARCHES
The most spinward fringe of the Imperium (or, to say it another way, the trailing edge of the Zhodani Consulate) passes through the Spinward Marches. Within the Marches, territory stands under the control of the Imperium, the Zhodani Consulate, and several relatively small federations or confederations including the Darrians and the Sword Worlds. Immediately to coreward, large numbers of Vargr occupy entire subsectors, making them also of interest when discussing the naval forces of the Marches. Although the ships of the various peoples of the Marches differ, the basic facts of naval organization do not. In essence, a discussion of these facts can be applied to all of the starfaring races and governments in the Spinward Marches.
SHIP AND FORCE ORGANIZATION
The basic element of any space navy is the starship. Many types and
classes are in existence, and they serve many purposes, but essentially they are fighting
starships. Navies, however, in order to exercise command control and to operate
efficiently, impose an over structure of organization which allows them to oversee ship
movements. This over structure is partially an administrative structure intended to
simplify supply and repair operations, and partially a tactical structure intended to
simplify the operations of battle.
Squadrons: A squadron is primarily administrative, and is simply the assignment of two or more ships of the same type and class to a single group. Auxiliary ships of various types are often attached to that same squadron for support, escort, and reinforcement. Squadrons are also called divisions or sections depending on local preference and usage. The names are ultimately unimportant; the fact is that ships are rarely based individually.
For example, the Imperial CruDiv 119 consists of two Azhanti High Lightning class frontier cruisers (CF-6405 Bard Refuge and CF-6355 Children of the March) assigned to patrol duty in the Spinward Marches. The cruiser division is identified as a Lightning class cruiser division with two CFs assigned. The division (or squadron) actually consists of from four to eight ships, depending on the local situation, enemy threat, and even time of year. The additional ships are generally not noted because they are inconsequential; they are simply small escort ships suitable for short reconnaissance runs, fleet couriers suited for transmission of intelligence reports, or even auxiliary support ships needed for local repairs on station.
Large squadrons will have many auxiliary ships, and depending on
design needs, they may include refuelling ships, troop shuttles, fleet couriers and
courier tenders, command ships, or intelligence processing ships. The identity of the
squadron, however, is taken from the major battle vessels within it; the auxiliary vessels
add little combat firepower to the unit, and are only a small portion of the total ship
Of course, individual ships are capable of jump and maneuver on their own, and they are not permanently tied together. It is possible for a local commander to split a squadron or division into individual ships, especially for simple errands, routine calls at ports, or to spread forces over large areas. But such division of forces also removes ships from the control of the squadron commander and weakens any tactical or strategic advantage he might have. As a result, squadron splitting is generally a peace-time occurrence. In time of war, the squadron is the basic unit of naval force.
Squadron Types: There are many types and classes of ships. Squadrons, however, are of only five basic types: battle, cruiser, scout, tanker, and assault.
Battle squadrons are formed from battleships or battleriders and are intended to meet the best of the enemy fleet, engage it, and destroy it. Their purpose is battle. Of course, an indication of the flexibility of this sort of definition is obvious when the above statement is examined closely. Since every battle generally has a winner and a loser, only about half of the ships meeting enemy ships come out victorious; battle squadrons are intended to meet and destroy the enemy. Whether they do or do not depends on many factors. Battle squadrons are usually reinforced with large numbers of auxiliary ships, including refueling shuttles, troop transports, and many small escorts. In addition, large numbers of fast fleet couriers are generally taken along in order to allow the fast relay of battle intelligence to higher command levels.
Cruiser squadrons are organized from cruisers and are intended to support the line of battle in space combat; they have a secondary duty to support planetary surface operations once the space battle has been won. In one-on-one battles, cruisers can virtually never win over battleships or battle-riders. Sufficient numbers of cruisers, however, can emerge victorious from a fight with a lesser number of battleships. Thus, cruiser squadrons can be employed in the line of battle in an emergency. Their primary purpose is support. They engage the enemy's cruiser squadrons and keep them at bay until the battle squadrons have decided on a victor. Depending on the results, they then direct the battle squadrons to new (and easier) cruiser targets, or jump out of the system to safety. Like battle squadrons, cruiser squadrons also include a variety of auxiliaries fulfilling various support functions. One of the
most important, given the cruiser squadron responsibility of planetary surface support and bombardment, is the bulk ordnance carrier. Typically, a squadron will consist of two to six cruisers, many small escorts, and at least one ordnance carrier providing resupplies of missiles to the cruisers. If large quantities of deadfall ordnance are to be utilized, an additional bulk carrier will be assigned. This second bulk carrier
will move to a local moon or asteroid belt and carve out large rocks or small asteroids for use in the bombardment phase.
Scout squadrons are a peculiarity of wartime. In peace, the scout service (including exploratory, communications, and survey branches) scatters its forces over large distances. Of necessity, when hostilities begin, many of these services are suspended, and the ships are committed to defensive duties. They perform them in scout squadrons. Scout squadrons are difficult to define. Because of service pride, interservice rivalry, and general lack of equipment interchangeability, scout squadrons are quite heterogeneous. They are also only lightly under naval command. Their greatest asset is not their actual combat capability, but their familiarity with the territory and as a result they are usually dispatched on independent missions.
Assault squadrons are groupings of troop transports. Their carrying capacity is measured in the hundreds of battalions, and they serve two functions. One is the simple transportation of troop units from point to point. Their large capacities make them ideal for massive troop movements, and they are in constant demand once hostilities begin. Their second function is the actual delivery of troops to a disputed world surface. They are the invasion carriers for world combat.
Tanker squadrons are a special requirement dictated by technology. Regardless of what jump levels are available to ships or squadrons, ultimately a situation will occur where a squadron cannot reach a destination because of lack of capability or or fuel availability. The tanker squadron is a special grouping for fuel carriers which accompanies other squadrons and re-fuels them. The need and the solution should be obvious.
REGULAR AND COLONIAL SQUADRONS
Squadrons may also be classified by their level in the governmental
structure. For the most part, squadrons are regular; they are part of the regular naval
establishment. Within the Spinward Marches, they are Imperial squadrons, Consulate
squadrons, or Vargr squadrons.
In addition to regular squadrons, however, local worlds often maintain their own navies. Where such a navy consists only of system defense boats, it is only incidental to a discussion of squadrons and fleets. Some worlds with high enough tech levels and large enough populations see their way fit to flying their own squadrons of interstellar warships. Such squadrons are called colonial squadrons where necessary to avoid bruising local egos, the term provincial squadron is also acceptable.
In essence, colonial squadrons are locally fielded, locally manned, locally commanded, and locally oriented squadrons of types that are useful to the system involved. A system may decide that they require a battle squadron for protection against marauding neighbors, unchecked piracy, or insufficient regular protection. The advantage of a local colonial squadron is that it operates at the local tech level. The economic fallout is desirable, as it utilizes the local economy, it trains and depends on local labor, and it can be depended on to protect the local assets.
The higher levels of the navy are generally encouraging when it comes to colonial squadrons. Such units form the first line of defense for any system, and buy time until regular squadrons can be brought to bear.
Imperial colonial squadrons are locally raised and financed. In time of war, they become imperialized and may be utilized by the Imperial Navy as required for the greater good of the Imperium. This fact is not necessarily well-publicized before hostilities begin.
Zhodani colonial squadrons are locally raised, but are subsidized extensively by the Consulate, especially in the Marches. Given a basic aggressive thrust by the Zhodani in the Marches, this policy is to be expected. It utilizes local personnel to reinforce the Consulate Navy for in offensive operations, and also frees the Navy from responsibility for defensive operations in the event of Imperial counterstrikes.
Vargr colonial squadrons are essentially locally raised units.
Sword Worlds colonial squadrons form the entire Sword Worlds Navy. In effect, the Sword Worlds do not maintain their own confederation-wide forces, drawing on their worlds for such forces as the situation may call for.
Fleets are squadrons of squadrons. That is to say, where groups of
ships form squadrons, groups of squadrons form fleets. The fleet is the basic maneuver
unit for naval action. The reason lies in the very nature of space travel and space
combat. Since jumps from system to system avoid all intervening territory, an invading
fleet can completely avoid many well-defended systems as it crosses a border and moves
into the interior of the enemy's territory. In cost effective terms, it is impossible to
provide enough ships or squadrons to hold off an invader. And in tactical terms, it is
impossible, given the restrictions on communications inherent in the jump system, to
direct many different, independently maneuvering ships or squadrons to the right place for
As a result, in both the attack and the defense, the fleet has become the basic maneuver unit for naval operations. Under an admiral with complete authority and very wide latitude, the fleet can maneuver to the probable site of an enemy incursion, there to wait for its arrival, or to move on to the next probable site. Giving such authority to lesser squadron commanders would , cause chaos and disorganization on the one hand, and would allow squadrons to be engaged (and possibly destroyed) piecemeal on the other.
The single most important combat doctrine for space combat is the
continuing controversy over battleships and battleriders. In effect, two distinct
approaches to the constuction and use of battleships exist and compete, with no clear
superiority merging. First of all, the concept of the battleship is basic to space combat.
When combat occurs, the battleships do the fighting and generally determine the winner.
The problem is in determining the best design for such a battleship: there are two general
theories. Initially the battleship concept centered on large tonnage ships with high
maneuver and agility, excellent computers, and extensive arrays of weaponry. The
combination of legs and firepower made ~ the ships clearly formidable adversaries.
Soon, however, it was proposed that for any two ships of equal tonnage, a non-jump capable ship, unburdened by large fuel tankage requirements, could carry more and greater firepower, better armor, and have an overall edge. Tests and battle reports confirmed the concept. The result was the battlerider squadron: several (2 to 8) large craft in the 50,000 to 100,000-ton range, each armed and armored like a battleship. Part of the squadron is a dispersed structure carrier with jump drives and tankage sufficient to support the entire group. The battlerider squadron moves between stars as one ship, deploying the best possible forces for large scale operations.
Upon breakout from jump, the battleriders move immediately to engage the enemy while protecting the carrier in the reserve once battle is joined.
Its true: a 100,000-ton non-jump-capable battlerider is superior in every way to a 100,000-ton jump-capable battleship. The controversy is over situational tactics. Remember that enough cruisers cornering a battleship can destroy it; no ship is totally invulnerable all the time. The battleship theory states that battleships are superior because they do not need to constantly guard a mothership. If a battlerider fleet enters a system and encounters superior forces, the battle becomes one to the death. The riders must win before they can rejoin their carrier and break off; if they attempt to break off before a victory, they risk destruction of their carrier. In the same circumstances, battleships could easily break and run when they face a superior enemy.
The controversy thus stands: should ships be designed for an expectation of victory, as in the battleriders, or for a minimization of defeat, as in the battle-ships. The result, as always, is a compromise. Colonial squadrons tend to be battleships, to defend local systems, and to allow an escape when over-whelmed. Regular squadrons tend to be battleriders, for maximum striking power in the offensive.
This article originally appeared in The Journal of the Travellers' Aid
Society No.9 and was written by Marc Miller.